“The House of the Dead”, boomed a supernatural voice chillingly cutting through the air of arcades in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, in an attempt to grab fearless arcade-goers’ attention. Were you brave enough to tackle the horrors down the local arcade/chippy? If you were, you discovered one of the best, most difficult light gun shooter games ever made by Sega.
Arcade machines were designed to grab your attention and make you put in more coins frequently. It achieved this via sound, colourful graphics, randomly played rock music and insane difficulty levels. Many unsuccessful attempts were made to conquer The House (of the Dead), as the short campaign was artificially extended by high difficulty settings making players pump in coin after coin.
The House of the Dead series began in 1996 and has its latest home console release out now – The House of the Dead: Remake. Throughout the series the theme of terror/horror and bio weapons are a common trait, usually presented within an on-rails shooter experience. Different undead enemies, branching pathways and high scores are a trait and House of the DeadL Remake definitely stays faithful to its roots.
This is a good thing, yet also the biggest downfall with the latest release. House of the Dead: Remake is faithful to a time where home consoles could have had a light gun accessory thanks to CRT televisions in every household. Flash forward to 2022 and most if not all gamers use HD or 4K as their main format of choice in screen/television, thus rendering light gun accessories useless due to modern TVs utilising LCD tech over CRT. So a shooter game without said shooter. Well, okay then.
What we have here is a 1-for-1 remake of the original The House of the Dead and instantly the word Remake in the title gets a huge tick. After recently taking the original out for a spin on the trusty old Sega Saturn, the graphic touch-ups in the new version stand it well above and beyond what we got back when televisions were bigger than your current microwave. There is nothing but praise for the work the team at Forever Entertainment have achieved in keeping the feel of the original while sprucing it up to be less offensive on the eyes. The game looks great.
It takes place in a mysterious creepy mansion owned by Dr Curien, who has been creating the horrific monsters that now populate the grounds and interior of the mansion. You must blast your way through the oncoming hordes and try to save the scientists on your way to foiling his dastardly scheme. Somehow your girlfriend has got tangled up in this mess and you must rescue her also; no idea to this day why. This is full of B-movie levels of cheesy story and acting here folks, and it works great, in a charming old school Sega way.
Also unchanged is the gameplay, as the character moves on-rails throughout each level automatically. During moments of your “drive thru” experience, you must take out all enemies on-screen as quickly as possible. Back again are the scientists to save in each level, usually by shooting whichever on-screen menace is about to take them to meet their maker. Thankfully aiming with only a control stick is quite responsive and the back triggers on the Xbox controller make shooting off rounds feel just like it should.
Sadly no matter how good having an actual trigger feels, using a stick to aim just cannot stand up next to holding an actual light gun accessory and aiming in real time. Perhaps if some kind of sensor bar akin to what the Nintendo Wii utilised for its Wiimote technology and a light gun were bundled with the game, this could have been an amazing at home arcade experience once again. What we now have instead is a first person shooter on rails that just doesn’t spark the same joy. Unfortunately.
That said Forever Entertainment haven’t just given it a copy and paste with a fresh coat of paint then called it a day. No, they have given us a whole new suite of options that were not possible when the original title was released. The main new addition is Horde mode, geared towards playing with a mate as it throws what seems to be double the enemy count at the player as what almost feels like a New Game plus. Often playing Horde feels quite simply overwhelming and unfair, targeting the most elite players who are finding the highest difficulty on the normal campaign a breeze.
The main campaign is relatively short on the easier difficulty mode and can be completed in an hour without many issues. Fans of the game or completionists will take a bit longer as there are multiple paths available if you can find them and saving every scientist is no easy feat. There is also the matter of high scores that will appeal to arcade junkies who need to see their initials at the top of the table. All in a comprehensive package that old school fans will be chomping at the bit to play once more.
Shooting through the small amounts of environments that are on offer is a fun time and really nails the feeling of the old-school on-rails shooter we see so little of today. Between levels there are boss encounters that occur and require some more thought than the regular ‘shoot till it stops’ gameplay in between. Bosses are always accompanied by an on-screen prompt displaying the weak point that allows you to try and target that area on their body to take them down.
Besides the final boss, all of the others feel fair (to some degree) and go down pretty quickly on normal or below difficulty. The last level however presents a boss that is clearly designed to get the most coin out of a player as it has a small area for a weak point and spams difficult to avoid attacks. That said, in this console version you can continue without having to pay out any more coin from your pocket, thankfully.
The House of the Dead: Remake stays faithful to its roots and is an incredible upgrade visually compared to the original version. That said it still feels like a shadow of its former incarnation due to the lack of a physical light gun to blast through Curien’s house of horrors. The short true-to-arcade length of the campaign will also make it a one and done for many. Maybe someday someone will finally release a modern day light gun accessory and we can fully enjoy titles like The House of the Dead: Remake in the way they were originally intended.
The House of the Dead: Remake is on the Xbox Store